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Serves Them Right!

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Whenever there is an animal involved in a situation of conflict with respect to humans, I sometimes hear people – vegan or not – rejoice in human suffering or withhold sympathy for the human.

It is that “serves them right!” response. Think of the toreador getting gored or the hunter getting shot or the non-vegan contracting a diet related disease.

I read an article about the majority of chicken corpses in the UK containing the E.coli bacteria and someone commented that they would withhold sympathy from the humans and side with the chicken victims.

I understand that reaction, but I ask this:

Why rejoice in human suffering at all? Does that advance any cause? Does bacterial justice serve any purpose other than to satisfy one’s own prurient Schadenfreude? And what if that bacterial justice felled someone we loved? Or even us before we went vegan? Or our mum? Or that friend who we have almost shown the light to? Or us (or anyone we love) should we/they develop an infection that cannot be cured because of antibiotic resistance?

And why do we need to be so ugly in rejoicing in others’ suffering when we are advocating for the cessation of suffering in the first place? Are our hearts and minds not big enough to have room for all? I don’t think so. I think we can all do better than that.

And if you are not vegan and you are shaking your head in agreement or getting incensed when an animal you fancy gets hurt or killed (gorilla/dolphin/dog/cat), then I ask you, what have the cows, pigs and chickens done to deserve to be killed, other than to be tasty for humans? Because we have no objectively good, or not arbitrary and self-serving, reason to inflict the unimaginable suffering and, ultimately, death upon them.

You can go vegan today. It is easy. 

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  • cosmicblueprint

    I’m not sure I follow you entirely. Are you saying that a cardinal rule of veganism is broken every time someone expresses more sympathy for the animal victim than for the animal abuser? I’m not entirely sure you’ve made clear what degree of sympathy an animal abuser deserves?

    Am I right in thinking that, in order to call myself a vegan, I ought to show an equal amount of sympathy to the person who abuses and kills my dog as I should to the person who abuses and kills my mother, and feel no resentment towards either?

    Since you seem fairly confident about how best to advance the cause of veganism – which appears to involve never criticising anyone for the abuses suffered by animals – I’d be interested to know whether or not you think it amounts to a social-policy mistake to pursue retributive justice in animal abuse cases? Would you prefer that laws didn’t exist to punish animal abusers, and that we deal sympathetically with abusers instead? Where would be the justice in that?

    Since you mentioned hunting, I’d be curious to know which strategy you think is more likely to save elephants and rhinos from extinction in the little time left to us? One that involves showing an enormous amount of sympathy and patience to the poachers, to try to persuade them to desist (but likely to require a length of time the elephants and rhinos haven’t got at the current rates of poaching), or one where poachers are shot on sight?

    To be frank, my veganism doesn’t preclude supporting the latter strategy as a matter of expediency (and dare I say justice) because of the severity of the situation facing wildlife in Africa. And, as a vegan, just as I would physically intervene to stop someone beating an animal to death in the street, I would personally shoot poachers if I could, because I don’t equate veganism with pacifism – which appears to be the version you’re proposing.

    • Kp

      I second that comment. Wanting to see people who perpetuate injustice and hurt others punished is a natural human emotion. It’s the whole basis of our criminal justice system, in fact. If we didn’t have a justice system whereby wrongdoers were locked up or fined, we would have a society in which people would just go around exacting their own private revenge on those they believe have wronged them–which is exactly what we had before legal systems were set up. We are social creatures–we naturally seek to mete out justice to those in our community who we perceive to be acting unjustly towards others. Asking people to cut this basic yearning for justice out of themselves and pretend not to want something bad to happen to thugs who victimize the vulnerable is simply unnatural.

      Also, I feel the author of the article is conflating different levels of culpability. Someone who eats animals without ever being exposed to a good case for veganism is not as culpable as one who knows all about the reasons for veganism, yet continues perpetuating the injustice of eating animals anyway. And both of these would be less culpable than a hunter who goes out and kills animals for fun, becasue he or she actually enjoys the act of killing, not just what it produces (i.e., meat). And all of these would be less culpable than the CEO of a major animal agribusiness corporation, becasue he or she is deriving personal profit directly from ordering and perpetuating the suffering and death of millions. I would rejoice to see the head of Tyson Foods die of a meat-borne illness, and would feel good about a hunter getting killed by one of the poor, desperate creatures he or she was trying to kill for fun. If a regular consumer of animal products were to suffer from a meat-borne illness, I think I’d feel differently depending on how much they knew about the case for veganism. I would not waste much sympathy on someone who was well acquainted with the injustice of eating animals, yet continued doing it anyway for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  • “…just as I would physically intervene to stop someone beating an animal to death in the street, I would personally shoot poachers if I could, because I don’t equate veganism with pacifism…”

    How about shooting our friends and relatives who eat meat, dairy and eggs? After all, the animal agriculture is the number one cause for species extinction. How sensible is to attack those who eat dogs together with those who eat McDonalds? How sensible is attacking women who wear fur by men who wear leather?

    Even if we see violence as means for solving world affairs, violence in the animal rights movement is counterproductive for the simple reason that 99% of the population perpetuate animal injustice, torture and death. In such situation, how sensible would it be for 1% of the population to attack 99% of the population? It does not make sense at all. Instead, some of us express violent behaviour toward hunters, poachers, kangaroo leather producers, whalers, etc. together with the majority of the population who pay for raising, torturing and killing billions of farm animals for food.

    “…I’d be interested to know whether or not you think it amounts to a social-policy mistake to pursue retributive justice in animal abuse cases? Would you prefer that laws didn’t exist to punish animal abusers, and that we deal sympathetically with abusers instead?…”

    The definition of “animal abuser” is someone who abuses animals. 99% of the population eat meat, dairy and eggs, products from animals who have been subjected to torture much worse than the lion shot by the dentist. The majority of the population, among other abusive things, eat animal products, wear animal products, buy products tested on animals, visit horse races, visit Seaworld, go fishing and legally dump their pets to be killed “humanely”. The law makes sure that all these activities are protected. Sometimes some exotic animals may be more valuable for the economy alive, and the law protects keeping them alive in those instances until the same species is not endangered any longer, at which point killing them becomes legal again. Laws have nothing to do with punishing animal abusers except in 0.001% of cases that classify “scientifically indefensible and economically unsound”. Professor Gary L. Francione wrote a book Animals, Property and the Law on this topic.

    In conclusion, the root of the problem is that the majority of the population see using animals as normal as breathing air. Selectively targeted violence against abuses that the majority does not engage in and condemns will only reinforce the root of the problem. On the other hand, non-violent vegan education can create meaningful change. And “serves them right!” response is not part of vegan education. For more information search Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights.

    • Amanda Spring

      Spot on, Balint Balasa. The only enemy here is the normalization of violence against animals – which cannot be effectively combatted by directing violence toward humans. It can only be combatted (and de-normalized) by the promotion of veganism.

  • From Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach by Gary Francione and Anna Charlton on violence:

    “Second, there is no coherent way to identify legitimate targets for violence. If it is, as some claim, morally acceptable to use violence against animal exploiters, exactly against whom is this violence to be directed? The farmer raises animals because most humans demand to eat meat and other animal products. The farmer raises those animals in intensive conditions because consumers want animal products to be as inexpensive as possible. These institutional exploiters do what they do because the rest of us demand that they do so. If we stopped demanding animal products, the producers of those products would put their capital into other activities. Although government and industry currently help to create and support the demand for animal products, through subsidies and advertising, we can choose to ignore their encouragement. As a political matter, we can reject governmental policies that support animal products. If a sufficient number of people became vegan, the incentive for governmental support for animal use would diminish. So the responsibility for animal exploitation rests primarily on those who demand animal products. This includes all of those “conscientious omnivores” or nonvegan animal advocates who consume “happy” animal products. It is easier to characterize farmers as the “enemy,” but that ignores the reality of the situation…”

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